Heirloom Stories, Vol. 5
Most heirlooms have a story, and we want to know more of them. This Heirloom Stories interview series explores why people collect antiques and how special collectibles find new life generations after their creation.
Have you always had an appreciation of older homes?
I grew up in a 1930s brick Tudor, and while I don’t recall a specific appreciation for older homes when I was younger, I would regularly rearrange my bedroom furniture and often helped my grandma execute her ideas for how to redo her own living room.
I think my love of homes, in general, started to become more apparent during my college years when Domino magazine was in its original heydey. After college, I can’t recall exactly why, but I had been dead-set on living in a pre-war building.
My then-boyfriend-now-husband, Trevor, and I looked at what felt like dozens of apartments before we found the right one: an apartment in a 7-unit 1928 building with a circular floor plan, original oak floors, original kitchen cabinets, steam radiators, adorable built-ins, and even a view of the Space Needle from the living room! When we looked at the space, the prior tenant was in the process of moving out, but I was able to see past the mess and recognized how special it was. The landlord was shocked when we said we wanted it!
What inspired you to start salvaging for your current remodel?
After living in that apartment for four years, we purchased and rehabilitated a 1910 duplex (one building with two units), followed by our current 1903 home. Our house had been stripped of all its architectural details in the 1950s and had next to no character when we moved in.
This lack of character is what inspired me to start salvaging as many period-appropriate fixtures and architectural details as I could to return some of the original charm back into the home; to restore the story. An added bonus is being able to give existing items a new life instead of defaulting to buying new, which is typically lower quality and trying to fit a particular trend that will simply go out of style and look dated.
Do you have a favorite salvaged item that you’re adding back to your house?
I have two favorite salvaged items that I can’t decide between! The first is a built-in Douglas fir linen cabinet that we’ll install in our upstairs landing/hallway. I plan to case it out to make it look like it’s always been there.
The second is a Douglas fir colonnade, or built-in room divider, which will fill the void between our living and dining rooms. Something similar was ripped out in the ’50s. Based on scraps of original trim I found holding up our garage rafters (sob!), the dark stain of both of these items matches nearly identically to what was originally in the house.
Have you found any old items while demo-ing your house?
The oldest item we’ve found during demolition has been a newspaper scrap from November 1905. We think it was from the first “renovation” of the house, when the front two-story section of the house was added onto the original one-story rear built in 1903.
It’s incredible this scrap survived at least two gut renovations (in the 1950s and 1980s) in addition to our current one.
We’ve also found over a dozen 1920s-1940s razor blades, presumably from where an original medicine cabinet was recessed into the wall; as well as a full pack of cigarettes and an accompanying Ronson Adonis lighter from the 1950s, likely belonging one of the workers who gutted our house the first time around! I’ve mounted these, along with some other items we found, in shadow boxes and plan to eventually hang them in the house.
Do you have any tips for others who want to add character back to their house?
- Start with a crystal clear vision in your head of what you’re looking for. This is a different mentality than just popping into a thrift store with your friends on a random Saturday and not knowing what you’ll find. Settle in because you’re in this for the long haul!
- If you’re looking to match the original feel of your home, start by understanding your home’s architectural style and search for historic images of similar interiors on sites like Pinterest or Archive.org. Based on these findings, identify the type and style of item you need that will complement your home, as well as where you plan to put the item. Know the dimensions of your space and what will realistically fit. Think about function in addition to form; how you’ll actually use the item in your space, not just what it looks like.
- In addition to knowing what you want, identify the features that you don’t want to keep yourself on target: not just so you don’t get distracted, but also so you don’t end up settling. Settling for something slightly less than your vision is so tempting, but don’t let your impatience get the better of you! In our culture of instant gratification through fast fashion—and now fast furniture—it’s easy to lose sight of your end goal and fill your space with something that’s trendy and available immediately but doesn’t completely satisfy your original goal.
- Now that you’re in the right mindset, it’s time to start the search. I typically search Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp, and eBay all at least once a day, changing up my search terms to account for different websites’ search functionalities and different sellers’ verbiage. Sometimes I’ll set up saved search alerts, but they’re usually sent out as digests and not in real-time, so I don’t typically rely on them. In addition to these mainstays, I also check the online inventory of our local salvage yards. If your favorite salvage yard doesn’t post their inventory on their website, follow their accounts on Instagram or Facebook as more of these shops are getting savvier about their social media usage and will sometimes post gems. You can also check out estate sales using the EstateSales.net app and peruse items ahead of the sales. Online auction sites like Live Auctioneers and AuctionZip can also turn up some great items.
- Lastly, take note of how long ago an item was listed. If it’s been up for a while, don’t be afraid to offer a lower price. If you have to drive a long distance or rent a truck to pick up the item, those are also perfectly reasonable negotiating points to get the price down.
To learn more, be sure to follow Paige’s renovation journey on Instagram.
*Responses may be edited for length and clarity.